Alumni Profile: Hospital Executive’s Rise Began at Feinberg
by ED FINKEL
Steven J. Corwin, ’79 MD, president and chief executive officer of NewYork-Presbyterian, traces his multifaceted career success back to his days in a six-year BS/MD program at Northwestern and Feinberg, where he trained to become an acute care cardiologist.
“I have a great fondness for the university and the medical school,” Corwin says. The six-year program “was a terrific experience for me, both as an undergraduate student and a medical student. I felt incredibly well prepared to be an internal medicine intern. That foundation allowed me to do the things I have been able to do in my career.”
Under his leadership, the NewYork-Presbyterian hospital system has nearly doubled in size and now has four divisions providing healthcare annually to more than 2 million patients. In 2013, Corwin received an Alumni Merit Award from Northwestern, and this year he was named No. 11 on Modern Healthcare’s list of the 50 most influential physician leaders.
In retrospect, Corwin recognizes that Feinberg was ahead of its time in imparting values and skills like empathy, team building and the social impact of medicine.
“Although they weren’t explicitly taught, it was very much a core part of the value system,” he says. “A lot of leadership at the CEO level revolves around the ability to lead teams, the ability to show empathy and the ability to build a culture that is fundamentally based on core values like respect — all of which were instilled in me. And I don’t want to underestimate the degree to which the confidence I built during my education as an undergrad and medical student helped to build my career.”
A lot of leadership at the CEO level revolves around the ability to lead teams, the ability to show empathy and the ability to build a culture that is fundamentally based on core values like respect — all of which were instilled in me.
Corwin completed his training — residency and a fellowship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center — in 1986, and then practiced cardiology until 2000 at NewYork-Presbyterian, which has a unique dual affiliation with both Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medicine. In the last two decades, he has moved up the ranks from senior vice president and chief medical officer to president and CEO.
“Having the background as somebody who practiced and understands the practice of medicine helped me tremendously in my leadership roles,” he says. “Being somebody who was a respected practitioner was instrumental in gaining the confidence and acceptance of both the Columbia and Cornell faculty.”
Corwin encourages MDs who have the proclivity to consider such roles. “It’s helpful to have physicians on the administrative side,” he says. “Yes, they have to learn principles around finance and budgeting. But they do understand the most crucial thing, which is taking care of patients.” Of course, he adds, “There are successful systems like Northwestern’s that are run by people who are not physicians.”
As executive vice president and chief operating officer, Corwin oversaw day-to-day operations on five campuses and led a number of strategic initiatives around quality and patient safety, employee recruitment and retention, care for the underserved, financial and operational strength, and institutional relationship building. As president and CEO, he’s led the establishment of NewYork-Presbyterian’s Regional Hospital Network and Medical Groups, overseen planning and construction of several facilities, and spearheaded technological initiatives ranging from on-demand electronic medical records to telehealth services.
Corwin’s Career Trajectory
Looking back, Corwin takes pride in being the first in his family to become a physician, graduating Feinberg summa cum laude, and being named a chief resident and then a cardiology fellow. More recently, he says, “I’m now very proud of having built up our hospital and put it in a position to deliver great care for our region. There was a lot of help along the way to getting there. I’ve got a great management team and a great board of trustees.”
NewYork-Presbyterian has grown from a $3.5 billion operation to an $8 billion one, and added numerous facilities, Corwin says. “I’m very proud that I’ve been present since the beginning of the merger” with Columbia and Cornell, the only such three-way arrangement in the country. “Our philosophy is that all three enterprises are working together to provide great care and that academic medicine is a very important part of the solution to this country’s healthcare problems.”
His current role includes ensuring the best patient care and getting feedback from chiefs of service to do so, Corwin explains. He must keep the philanthropic community up-to-date about what’s happening at the hospital. And he needs to constantly team-build. “It’s really important, with a system the size of ours, to make sure that we’re all pulling our oars in the same direction,” Corwin says. “I make sure everybody feels listened to, that we’re making decisions with consensus and that tough decisions get made quickly.”
Corwin’s typical day at NewYork-Presbyterian goes from about 7 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. He discusses strategic initiatives and financial matters with trustees and senior administrative leaders, and he meets with the deans of the respective medical schools. “I need to make sure we all move forward together and that both deans feel that I’m helping them to support the academic mission and the research mission,” Corwin says. “And then also that we’re moving forward the clinical enterprise together.”